‘Lone Survivor’ (2013) Review

by on January 10, 2014

in Entertainment, movie reviews

Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch in Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster.  The movie was written and directed by Peter Berg (Battleship, Hancock).

Based on the failed June 28, 2005 mission “Operation Red Wings”. Four members of SEAL Team 10 were tasked with the mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd.

Peter Berg took an action flick and paid the armed services one of the best tributes I’ve ever seen on film.  A tribute via a visceral experience capped with touching memories of those involved.

It is rated R and runs a way too quick 2 hours and 1 minute long.  It was filmed in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico region.

Below, is a preview thought in my foreword, followed by my thoughts (review) and then some spoiler conversation if you wish to go there.


Mark Wahlberg in Lone Survivor

When I hit up the 10:35 AM screening of Lone Survivor I was surprised to find the theater almost half full.  I’ve never seen more than a dozen people at these early morning screenings.  And to boot, half of these folks appeared to be war veterans.  How they carried themselves as they walked in, the look in their eyes as they settled in to watch the movie.  You can see it.

I chatted a few up and sure enough, veterans.

I was lucky and it was an honor to watch the movie amongst such a distinguished crowd.


Lone Survivor starts out showing a montage of videos of what it takes to be go through training to be a member of special forces.  And this compilation was a unique eye opener as it set the tone in understanding just how tough these special forces soldiers can truly be.

Other montages show aspects of the life of our four primary soldiers and what they are in the middle of their routine and aspects of their personal lives, connecting us with who these men are.

We follow them through the processes of preparing for their ill-fated mission.  That mission being to capture or kill a Taliban leader.  But while our boys settle in above a small village to scout for their target, their location is accidentally discovered by a trio of goat herders.  An old man, an angry younger man and a small child.

This event compromises their mission.  Their options include killing them and continuing the mission.  Or let the goat herders go, thus compromising their assignment, making their mission a failure.

There was some debate, but in the end, they make the correct and lawful decision by releasing them.  But this was not in their best interest.  The angry young man books down the mountain and as one thing leads to another, our four soldiers find themselves in a very bad situation.

Very, very bad.  But then again, the title of the movie is a bit of a spoiler.

Peter Berg focused on telling this story with an eye towards the realistic grit of this situation.  When men become shot, it’s a realistic blood splatter, no excessive gore.  Injuries are depicted with subtle and yet gruesome realism.  People don’t fly through the air in some glorious depiction of being shot.  They drop, as it is in the actual world.

Characters are pushed beyond the measure that you would never expect a man to endure.

It’s in the moments of the entire fire fight, that the montage of training comes to mind.

In most military movies, the sensationalized hero “mans up,” and busts the balls off the bad guys.  He does it because we’ve been told what a bad ass he is through some fantastic deed in the beginning of the movie, and other clues or references hence.

In Lone Survivor, we were shown the rigors these soldiers when through in training and what it takes to make it through training.  That was enough.

These men don’t “man up.”  They show up on scene, already powered up.  When our main characters get shot up, injured and endure events beyond human expectation, you “know it,” you understand why they’re still standing and bring the fight to the enemy.

This was a well orchestrated move on Berg’s part.

The bravery, the selflessness, and heroic efforts are well portrayed throughout the film, right up to the end.

Berg kept the camera moving, but paid a service to the movie goer by NOT USING any shaky cam stunts. (There is a god!)

Taylor Kitsch in Lone Survivor

Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch pulled off their characters without distraction.  Taylor Kitsch, who has worked with Berg before, looked very much like he stepped outside his comfort zone of character delivery and embraced it.  I’ve never seen him in this kind of role before.

Wahlberg delivered a great performance, and nothing should be taken from it.  But in the last half of the last act, he started acting more like Wahlberg than like the character that he mustered through the first 80/90% of the movie.  But it wasn’t out of character, it just looked more like Wahlberg’s previous characters.

And if you’re worried about this war flick being too gory, Berg manages to deliver a realistic environment and not play up the potential gore other directors would take advantage of.  But there will be a moment or two, where you will be presented with an open break.  It accounts for about five or ten minutes of the film at most.

This was an exceptional movie experience that pulled me in, full force, to the situation at hand, and had me yearning for anything but the outcome we know is coming.

Each character loss hurt and was heroic, in one way or another.

Whether it’s because of how the film was delivered to us or that we knew it was based on an actual event, we were drawn into that which knitted the film together from act to act, character to action.

And then, when all was said and done, Berg had the state of mind to deliver to the audience video and photographic memories of the men we lost through this action.  The real men the actors portrayed.  It was then that all the emotions from this film were pulled to the forefront.  Seeing these men in moments of their lives, with their families and loved ones, prior to these events in the film, it hit home what was truly lost in this one single event.

9 out of 10 review scoreThis is a moment that Berg, Wahlberg and Kitsch brought to the theater. It had me reflect on all the veterans out there, and how quietly they downplay their pasts.  I came away from the theater believing this is a new “classic war movie.”

This movie is worthy of whatever money you might want to drop on it at the box office.  On my dramatic scale, because of all the elements pulled together the Berg did, and how it got me thinking, I give this film a 9/10.  That score might be a touch high, but I’m OK with that.  Berg hit it out of the park with this one for me.

– – –

Lone Survivor Conversational Spoilers

As the title says, there will be some light spoilers ensuing below because I can not keep quiet about some aspects about the movie.

Lone Survivor review

When the movie opens to the montage of training these men go through, my first thoughts were how brutal that training looked.  But then as the story is told, it all makes perfect sense.  It makes perfect sense that the valiant men who “washout” are just being weeded out to leave the toughest men alive to carry on in their duties.

As the film progressed toward the inevitable mission, we became friends with the men, as we watched them dream about their futures or talk to their other halves on their laptops.  It’s a short time to spend with these characters, but it was enough to make us sad for who they were leaving behind.

They ship out and these four men are delivered to hostile territory and they are brave and nonchalant, all at once.

As the s*! hits the fan, these four men, about as calm as you or I might be hiking in the mountains, dig in for a fire fight.  These four against a hoard.

The gun fight the ensued, first showed us these snipers taking careful shots at the men running upon them, encroaching into their space.  But as more and more Taliban encroach on their position, it gets more hopeless.  Well, as hopeless as a regular Joe on the street might see it.

This is when that opening montage started to sink in.

Each of these men had been hit by gunfire once, twice, a few times, and they kept it up, taking it to the bad guys.  As if they weren’t even fazed.

And it wasn’t even bad yet.

As the men were outflanked, they were pushed to the edge.  Literally, the edge of the cliff they were fighting on, and jumped.  And when they ended up at the bottom of the cliff, they make their broken bodies stand up, and continue to fight back.

Amongst the ricochets, the shoulder launched rockets and being swarmed from all sides, these men never gave up.

And that opening montage continued to make even more sense.

They jumped off another ledge.  This time for sure, I didn’t think they’d go beyond that moment.  Yet again, they got up.  The injuries they were suffering kept me amazed at how they could carry on.

As the film went on, each man that went down, went down with dignity.

Lone Survivor was a crazy eye opener to see this realistic depiction of this worthy but ill-fated surgical strike.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dan O. January 12, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Good review Bruce. It could have easily tried to make some big, preachy statement about the war we are facing, but instead, sticks to the people who fight in it each and every day, and how their precious lives are the one’s being lost all in the name of freedom.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: